To the Point
THE GO0D, THE BAD, THE UGLY
Proceed with caution before using information found online
Earlier this year, an associate and I were talking about the value the Internet brings to new insurance professionals—and everyone, for that matter. We also talked about the challenges. I can sum up the gist of our conversation like this: “The good thing is that today’s young professionals have access to so much more information than we did when we were new in the business. The bad thing is they have access to so much more information than we did when we were new in the business.”
Not long after that discussion, I came across a spot-on piece written by International Risk Management Institute (IRMI) President and CEO Jack Gibson, CPCU, CRIS, ARM, whom I’ve known since the mid-1990s when I worked for the CPCU Society. His article, titled “Beware of Biased or Outdated Information,” spells out the challenges many insurance professionals face when looking for reputable information.
Insurance is a knowledgebusiness, and it is imperative that you have access to the most up-to-date and accurateinformation possible to perform your job well.”
—Jack Gibson, CPCU, CRIS, ARM
President and CEO
International Risk Management Institute
In the piece, Jack writes, “Insurance is a knowledge business, and it is imperative that you have access to the most up-to-date and accurate information possible to perform your job well. Providing a wrong answer or making a mistake can be very damaging to your personal brand, and you want to avoid that at all costs.
“Always having up-to-date and accurate information is challenging,” he adds, “because risk management techniques, insurance concepts, and coverage nuances are extremely complex and continuously evolving subjects.” He explains that coverage laws are constantly changing as courts are regularly deciding how coverage applies to varying fact patterns and as insurers “react to catastrophic losses, unexpected court holdings, emerging risks, and the introduction of new policy forms by the service organizations such as Insurance Services Office, Inc. (ISO), and American Association of Insurance Services (AAIS).”
Jack adds, “Because of the complexity and changing nature of the business, it is impossible for anyone to have complete knowledge of everything he or she must know to perform at a high level in the insurance industry. As a result, it is necessary to consult with mentors and peers or rely on information gleaned from training materials, articles, and reference content provided by your employer or third parties.”
He rightly points out that relying on advice and suggestions from mentors and trusted peers generally is a safe approach, “since they will have your best interest and that of the company in mind. You just need to assure that their knowledge and experience encompass the subject matter about which you are inquiring.”
But as more and more professionals retire, it becomes increasingly challenging to find colleagues with institutional and industry knowledge and experience. “When you cannot find a colleague who has more knowledge and experience than you do,” he adds, “you’ll need to seek out answers from third parties.”
The first impulse is to look online. For digital natives, doing this is entirely natural. Internet searches will deliver a lengthy list of possibilities from a host of sources. Some of this information will be accurate and helpful, Jack points out. “However,” he adds, “much of it will be dangerously biased or outdated, and you should proceed with caution!”
In a video that accompanies Jack’s commentary on the IRMI website, Charles Gillenwater, risk manager for the City of Mesquite, Texas, observes, “You can always get an answer or find a resource on the Internet—at no cost. And it’s worth about that much.”
In the article, Jack offers questions that readers should ask about any risk management and insurance information found on the Internet:
- Who wrote the piece, what are the author’s credentials, and what biases might the author have?
- When was the piece written, and is it still current?
- On what website was the piece published, and what biases might the organization have?
“If you can’t answer these questions to your satisfaction,” he explains, “you should strongly discount the reliability of the content. As an example, assume you find an apparently well-reasoned and insightful article answering an important coverage question applicable to a major loss event experienced by an insured. The article was written four years ago by an attorney and published on the law firm’s website. To what degree can you rely on it? Your first concern is obvious: Has a court decision in the intervening years changed the law since the article was written? This situation is possible and something you should investigate if you are unsure.
The problem with Internet quotes is that you can’t always depend on their accuracy.”
16th President of the United States
“A second, less obvious, and more important concern should be about possible biases of the author and the law firm,” he adds. “While not always the case, most coverage lawyers either represent only policyholders or only insurance companies rather than take cases from both. As a result, they will have a natural inclination to be biased in favor of one or the other. After all, their purpose in publishing the article on their website is to market their legal services to their target market.”
Jack believes it’s important to “always keep in mind that risk management and insurance content published on the websites of the insurance industry and its service providers has generally been written and published for marketing purposes. The website owner is not likely to have a diligent process for keeping the content up to date and will often succumb to natural biases in the content. In other words, take it with a grain of salt and always seek a second or third opinion on important issues.
“Of course,” he writes, “another—and speedier—type of third-party information to consider is found in the trade journals and reference content published by IRMI, Rough Notes, and their competitors.” He points out that, because their revenues include subscription fees, “professional publishers have much more at stake. They generally serve both policyholders and insurers, which reduces the inclination to be biased toward one or the other.”
He rightly observes that “since the content is their product, providing accurate and up-to-date information is important to the viability of their businesses. As a result, they invest substantially more resources in keeping their content accurate and updated than do those organizations that publish articles simply to attract search engine traffic and market their services.”
Jack points out that if you work for one of the major industry players, you probably have access to this type of content. “It will be available either through the publisher’s website, such as with IRMI Online,” he says, “or through a third-party content aggregator called ‘ReferenceConnect’ (ReferenceConnect, which is a service of Vertafore, was formerly called ‘SilverPlume’). If you don’t know how to access it, the publishers and aggregators are happy to help you get started via telephone.
“To reduce the possibility of embarrassing and career-damaging errors from outdated or inaccurate content on the web, you are strongly urged to first consult with these types of reference content providers. In the unlikely event you cannot find what you need from the professional publishers, revert to a general Internet search. Just be sure to ask the three credibility questions suggested above,”he concludes.
By Dave Willis, CPIA
For more information:
International Risk Management Institute
“Beware …” article